Israel and Palestinians clash at UN meeting as tensions rise

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Israel’s UN ambassador accused the Palestinians on Wednesday of stabbing a knife into any chance for reconciliation by seeking an advisory opinion from the UN’s highest court on Israel’s decades-old occupation — and the Palestinian UN envoy accused Israel’s new government of seeking to crush its people.

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The always contentious monthly UN Security Council meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was even more vitriolic and threatening this week, and UN Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland warned that “a dangerous cycle of violence persists on the ground, amidst increased political tension and a stalled peace process.”

“Israelis and Palestinians remain on a collision course amid escalating political and inflammatory rhetoric as well as heightened violence in the West Bank -- both with potentially grave consequences,” he said. “Absent a concerted and collective effort by all, with strong support from the international community, spoilers and extremists will continue to pour more fuel on the fire and we will move still further from a peaceful resolution of the conflict.”

Underlying the ongoing violence is the Palestinians’ decades-long quest for an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war. Israel considers the West Bank to be disputed territory and has built dozens of settlements that are now home to roughly 500,000 Jewish settlers.

In the latest confrontation, the Palestinians and their supporters won UN General Assembly approval on December 30 of a resolution asking the International Court of Justice or ICJ to intervene in one of the world’s longest-running and thorniest disputes and render an advisory opinion on the legality of Israeli policies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

While the court’s rulings are not binding, they do influence international opinion.

Israel’s new hardline government responded on Jan. 6 by approving steps to penalize the Palestinians in retaliation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said they were aimed at what he called “an extreme anti-Israel” step at the United Nations.

The measures include withholding $39 million from the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority and transferring the funds instead to a compensation program for the families of

Israeli victims of Palestinian militant attacks, deducting an amount equal to the sum the authority paid last year to families of Palestinian prisoners and those killed in the conflict including militants implicated in attacks against Israelis, and ending VIP travel privileges for leading Palestinians.

The Palestinians responded by getting more than 90 countries to sign a statement expressing “deep concern” at penalizing the Palestinians for going to the court, and urging

Israel to reverse the punitive measures. Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen rejected the statement.

At Wednesday’s Security Council meeting, Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan accused the Palestinians of drafting “a poisonous and destructive resolution” referring Israel to the ICJ “with the sole purpose of destroying Israel as the Jewish state.”

He claimed this has been a Palestinian goal since before Israel’s founding in 1948, and said one weapon they use “is the manipulation and abuse of international bodies” to force Israel to agree to their demands, which he called “multilateral terror.”

Erdan pointed to anti-Israel activities spurred by the Palestinians at the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court, and said that with the adoption of the General Assembly resolution on the ICJ, “the Palestinians stabbed a knife in the heart of any chances for dialogue or reconciliation.”

He also accused the Palestinians and the U.N. of exaggerating Palestinian casualties and under-reporting and discriminating against Israeli victims. While 2022 “may have been the deadliest year for Palestinian terrorists,” he said, “it was also the year with the most terror attacks committed against Israelis in a decade.”

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN ambassador, told the council the new Netanyahu-led government has said openly its program is to increase settlements, “annexation, systemic discrimination and oppression.”

“It does not recognize our rights anywhere, and proclaims a right for its settlers everywhere,” Mansour said.

The international community overwhelmingly considers settlements to be illegal. Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem, home to the city’s most sensitive holy sites, also is not internationally recognized.

Mansour said “peace is still possible,” but only if the Security Council and the international community “stand up to the supremacists” and take action to end Israel’s occupation, ensure accountability for its annexation of Jerusalem, recognize the state of Palestine, and reject Israeli settlers in occupied territory.

“We face the absurd situation where impunity is enjoyed by those who violate the law and collective punishment is endured by those entitled to its protection,” Mansour told the council. “Israel considers the world cannot hold it accountable for its illegal unilateral actions and yet it allows itself to punish us for resorting to legitimate multilateral mechanisms.”

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